Antiepileptic drugs and the immune system

Ettore Beghi, Simon Shorvon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Data on the effects of antiepileptic drugs on the immune system are frequently inconsistent and sometimes conflicting because the effects of drugs cannot be separated from those of seizures, first-generation drugs have been most intensively investigated, the patient's genetic background, the mechanism of action and the pharmacokinetic profile of AEDs and the concurrent use of immunosuppressant drugs may act as confounders. Valproate, carbamazepine, phenytoin, vigabatrin, levetiracetam, and diazepam have been found to modulate the immune system activity by affecting humoral and cellular immunity. AEDs are associated with pharmacokinetic interactions (most frequently occurring with carbamazepine, phenytoin, phenobarbital and valproate). Hepatic metabolism is the primary site of interaction for both AEDs and immunotherapies (ACTH, dexamethasone, hydrocortisone, methylprednisolone, cyclophosphamide, methotrexate, rituximab), which entail induction or inhibition of drug effects. However, the clinical importance of these drug interactions is still far from defined. An important adverse effect of the action of AEDs on the immune system is antiepileptic hypersensitivity syndrome (AHS), a life-threatening, idiosyncratic cutaneous reaction to aromatic AEDs resulting in end organ damage. Phenytoin, carbamazepine, phenobarbital, lamotrigine, oxcarbazepine, felbamate, and zonisamide have been implicated. The pathogenic mechanisms of AHS are incompletely understood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-44
Number of pages5
Issue numberSUPPL. 3
Publication statusPublished - May 2011


  • Antiepileptic drugs
  • Immune system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology


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